ExoTerra - Organic Animal Feed

Dried and crushed mealworms could be fed to cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish.

Dried and crushed mealworms could be fed to cattle, pigs, poultry, and fish.

Feature: Why insects could be the ideal animal feed

Insect protein is ideal for animal feed,for the same reasons its ideal for a human food source.

....manure / frass

..easily grown

. project Protein Insect

They are now being fed to fish, pigs, and chickens in large trials designed to answer an increasingly urgent question: Are insects the animal feed of the future?

Some scientists are convinced the answer is yes. The world’s appetite for meat is growing, and the production of animal feed is an increasing strain on land and water. Insects could provide much of the protein animals need at a much lower environmental cost; many insect species can feed on manure, or other types of organic waste, such as leftover food, offal, and grains discarded by breweries.

But in other countries the brave new world of industrial-scale insect farming is already on view.

THE BEST WAY TO TURN INSECTS into food is simply to eat them—and in many countries people already do. More than 2 billion people occasionally cook caterpillars, boil beetles, or marinate maggots as part of their traditional diet. In Southern Africa, 9.5 billion mopane caterpillars—named for their favorite tree—are harvested every year for human consumption, and in Uganda, a kilogram of grasshoppers is more expensive than a kilogram of beef.


Environmentally speaking, it’s a great choice,

Insects produce body mass at an astonishing rate, in part because as coldblooded animals they don’t need to expend energy on regulating their body temperature. Crickets need only 1.7 kilograms of feed to gain a kilogram of body weight; a typical U.S. chicken consumes 2.5 kilograms, pigs 5 kilograms, and cattle 10 kilograms.


Another advantage: Most insects can be eaten whole. Only about half of a chicken or a pig is edible; for a cow the fraction is even less. As a result, raising a kilogram of insect protein produces less CO2 than rearing pigs or cattle, and takes up only one-tenth the land.


Edible species, of which there are some 2000, are high in protein and rich in micronutrients such as iron and vitamins, several studies have found. the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO),  agees and has stated “the huge potential that insects offer for enhancing food security.”


Studies suggest that many animals do just fine on insects—which after all are a natural staple for creatures from chicken to trout. A 2014 review by FAO scientists of feeding trials conducted on catfish, tilapia, rainbow trout, and several other fish species, as well as crustaceans, chickens, and pigs, concluded that insect meal could replace between 25% and 100% of soymeal or fishmeal in the animals’ diets with no adverse effects. 


  	Many people find the idea of eating mealworms repulsive. Feeding them to animals avoids that problem.


These larvae are an important moneymaker for Grant in the summer. But with the houseflies he is raising next door, he hopes to break into an even bigger market. In one of the shipping containers, thousands of flies buzz in a huge wooden compartment. Early in the morning, a farmhand places trays of fresh chicken manure on the floor of the container. For 2 hours, the flies are allowed to lay their eggs on the manure. Then, the trays are put inside the other container to hatch.

 But most of the maggots are destined to be animal feed. They are sieved from the manure, then dumped into a cement mixer, where they are dried and left to fall apart, resulting in a fine insect powder.

 “The potential is huge,” In 2014, the world produced about 980 million tons of feed, worth about $460 billion. With meat consumption growing, those numbers will only rise. Already, more than 80% of the world’s soybeans are used as feed; their cultivation takes up huge amounts of land and water.

It takes about a hectare of land to produce a ton of soy per year; the same area could produce up to 150 tons of insect protein, 

Insect protein could make an even bigger impact in aquaculture, which consumes 10% of the world’s fish production as feed for other fish.

 Companies are looking for solutions to the looming protein crisis,  “I think insect protein will replace fishmeal. We can then leave this food source at the bottom of the food chain, where it should be—in our seas.”

Drew is one of the founders of AgriProtein Technologies, a company in Cape Town, South Africa, that many observers agree is furthest along in rearing insects at an industrial scale. With $11 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and private investors, the company has built a huge factory next to Cape Town International Airport that is now ramping up production. Once it reaches capacity, soldier fly larvae will consume 110 tons of organic waste daily to produce 24 tons of maggots. Dried and ground to a powder, they will be sold to South African farmers as feed at a lower price than fish meal, Drew says. Nothing prevents him from taking his product to the market, and he already has plans for a second factory. Drew thinks maggots will make him a millionaire.

REGULATORS IN EUROPE and the United States, however, still have concerns. In the United States, using insects as feed is allowed in some states but not others. EnviroFlight, a company based in Yellow Springs, Ohio, is rearing black soldier fly maggots and selling them as food for pets and zoo animals. The company is working with the Food and Drug Administration to prove it’s also safe to feed its larvae to animals eaten by humans. Feeding trials, mainly of fish, are underway, and nationwide approval could come as early as September 2016, predicts EnviroFlight’s founder and director Glen Courtright. “That would open the flood gates.”

Europe is warier, in part because of the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), better known as mad cow disease, in the 1980s and 1990s. BSE is caused by misfolded brain proteins. It spread among cows because they were fed proteins extracted from the remains of other cows, and a few hundred people who ate infected beef caught a fatal human form of the disease, variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. In response, the European Union banned the feeding of almost any type of animal protein to farmed animals.

No one thought of insects at the time, but today, the regulation is holding back development, complains Antoine Hubert, a French scientist who co-founded Ynsect, a company that aims to rear insects for feed and other applications. Because insects and mammals are so distantly related, the risk of prions or other pathogens making the jump is much smaller than it is between mammals, Hubert argues.

In 2013, the European Union relaxed the rules a bit to allow the use of animal proteins in aquaculture. But there is one problem: Animals used as fish feed have to be killed in a certified slaughterhouse with a welfare officer present, a rule clearly not written with maggots in mind. As a result, fish farms can now feed their animals chicken offal but not insects—even though many fish species eat insects in nature but not chicken. “That’s just absurd,” Hubert says.

Hubert is now lobbying for changes in the regulations through the International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed, which he founded in April together with representatives of AgriProtein and companies from France, Germany, and the Netherlands. The European Commission is paying attention: Also in April, it asked EFSA, its food watchdog, to look into the risks posed by the use of insects in food and feed. The resulting report, issued last week, mentions the buildup of chemicals such as heavy metals or arsenic as one possible risk. It also discusses infectious diseases, but finds that the risks aren’t higher than with other sources of animal protein.


 raised bluebottle larvae for anglers.



Insects aren’t even known to develop prion diseases, the report notes, and it agrees with Hubert that any bacteria or viruses that harm insects are most likely harmless to humans. Insects could conceivably pick up pathogens of fish, birds, or mammals through their diet and passively spread them, but there are ways to mitigate those risks, the report says, such as carefully choosing the insects’ food source.

On many issues, however, there’s simply not enough information. There are reports of allergic reactions in humans after eating insects, for instance, and even a case of anaphylactic shock. But such allergic reactions have never been reported in farm animals, although they should be monitored for that, the authors write.

MICK GRANT’S MAGGOTS could help provide more answers. At FERA, scientists have pureed the maggots and investigated them for pesticides, heavy metals, and traces of antibiotics and growth hormones. “Anything that we find on a farm could find its way into the maggots and in our food chain,” says Michael Dickinson, a scientist at the institute. “But we have not found any red flags so far.” The maggots are now being fed to pigs and chickens in Belgium. The growth of the animals as well as their health and the meat quality is compared with animals on a standard diet. By the end of the year, results from these trials should be available for EFSA to take into account.

Whether maggot-fed meat eventually makes its way to the table will depend in part on public acceptance—and Hubert worries that PROteINSECT’s use of manure as a food source will not help. “The public won’t accept feeding insects on manure,” Hubert says. (Ynsect, his own company, only uses food industry byproducts that are allowed as feed.)

 insects are all about efficiency. “If you can use waste to make something, it makes more sense than anything, doesn’t it?"


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